Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Under your skin: taking skin cancer out by its roots

the sun can cause field cancerization
Tumours can spring up amongst
'fields' of healthy skin cells.
The summer sun may finally be on its way. This is great news for barbecue kings and beach bums but also for the weeds lurking below the surface of the soil popping up intermittently to strangle my carrots.

New research published in Cell describes another reason to cake ourselves in sun cream, cover up bare flesh and wear ridiculously wide-brimmed hats in the coming months: weed-like skin cancers which start below the surface of the skin and grow upwards.

"Too much sun" is well known to carry a risk of skin cancer. Prolonged exposure to the sun's Ultraviolet (UV) rays can wither the DNA in cells on the skin's surface sometimes causing multiple tumours to spring up at once.

Dr Bing Hu and colleagues found alarming evidence that some cancers may start much deeper in the tissue. This may explain why skin cancers frequently reappear: surgery may remove a tumour, but its roots may remain.

The new research suggests that skin cancer can be kick-started by changes in the dermis – deeper skin tissue where healthy cells reproduce to replenish the cells on the surface.

the roots of skin cancers can begin deep in the tissue
The root cause of certain skin
cancers may be much deeper in the
tissue than previously thought.
The team, from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, discovered that UV light can cause mutations in the wiring of dermal cells, specifically to a protein called 'Notch' which is necessary for individual skin cells to communicate.

They found that mice born with malfunctioning Notch develop severely distorted skin full of lesions and tears. The dermal skin cells of these mice displayed accelerated cell division, a common prelude to tumour formation.

The mouse studies gave the team a vital clue of what to look for in human cells. They have since discovered Notch is disrupted in some human skin cancers too.

Dr Hu says that designing drugs to protect or repair Notch in human cells might be used in “preventing or reversing” the unseen effects of the sun on cells under our skin.

Until then, whether you're weeding, barbe-ing or bathing this summer the advice remains the same: enjoy responsibly. 

And remember to buy ice. And fire-lighters.


Hu B, Castillo E, Harewood L, Ostano P, Reymond A, Dummer R, Raffoul W, Hoetzenecker W, Hofbauer GF, & Dotto GP (2012). Multifocal Epithelial Tumors and Field Cancerization from Loss of Mesenchymal CSL Signaling. Cell, 149 (6), 1207-20 PMID: 22682244


  1. Great post full of useful tips! My site is fairly new and I am also having a hard time getting my readers to leave comments. Analytics shows they are coming to the site but I have a feeling “nobody wants to be first”. akne

  2. Very useful information shared!! The right thing is that whenever you face any problem with your skin just check it by the Skin doctor.

  3. This post is informative an I have got many unknown information about causes of skin cancer and its treatment process. Everybody knows Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide. Man should prevent it by wearing skin cancer protected clothing. Besides UV resistant clothing there are a number of items which must not be missed if you want to enjoy the sun safely. Avana collection will help you to find your favorate protector. Discover more at: Enjoy!